The History of Otsego, NY
By Holice and Debbie
|The first store was
kept by Louis and Pascal Franchot, and the first inn by Sturgis Bradley,
at Morris village.
The first grist-mill was erected by Louis de Villiers, at Elm Grove.
The first death was that of Elizabeth, wife of Benjamin Lull, Jr., and daughter of Ebenezer Knapp.
An honored pioneer in what is now the town of Morris was Stephen Walker, who moved from Johnstown, Saratoga Co., N. Y., and settled in 1811. He was some fifteen days on his journey, and first lived in a house on the premises of Judge Van Rensselaer, and after a few years bought and built a house of his won, where he lived till old age. His wife, Lydia Gardner, of Nantucket, was a birth-right Quaker, and he always attended the "Friends’ Meeting" in the meeting-house still standing at Morris, and most of his life was favored with the preaching of Joseph Bowne, of fragrant memory. He was a native of Providence, R. I. He was a good citizen, an honest, true man, and a kind and loving father of a family. He died in 1845,aged eighty years.
He had thirteen children, all of whom lived to be married and have children of their own. William died in Wisconsin, in 1873, aged eighty-two years. Stephen died at Buffalo, in 1864, aged seventy-two. Polly (Mrs. George Andrews), still living at Syracuse, N. Y., mother of Edward Andrews, bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Des Moines, Iowa, and of Hon. Charles Andrews, of Syracuse, judge of the court of appeals of New York. Samuel G., who died at buffalo, in 1857, aged fifty-seven years. Phebe A. (Mrs. S. S. Munson), now of Fowlerville, Michigan. Sarah (Mrs. E. Walter), who died at Litchfield, Mich., in 1867, aged sixty-three years, mother of Prof. E. S. Walter, of Michigan University. Ferdinand, now of Brooklyn, N. Y. Caroline (Mr. Isaac Caskey), now of Detroit, Mich. Matilda (Mrs. Sylvester Granger), now of Detroit. Benjamin G., who died at Tecumseh, Mich., in 1851, aged Thirty-eight years. Charles L., now of Detroit, Mich., a distinguished lawyer, and fifteen years professor of law in the University of Michigan. Susannah (Mrs. A. C. McGraw), who died at Detroit, in 1841, aged twenty-four years, leaving two sons, E. M. McGraw, a lawyer of San Francisco, and Dr. T. A. McGraw, an eminent surgeon and professor in medical college at Detroit. Edward C., also a lawyer of Detroit, and for fifteen years regent of Michigan University.
The following interesting reminiscences of Morris were written by A. S. Avery, Esq., in 1874:
"When I was a boy." How often do wee hear this remark, and how it calls up in our minds the scenes and incidents of by-gone days! How it strikes on the ears of the young to tell what happened, and how places looked when we were young! Past history lived over again. We will start from the old cherry tree at the east end of Main street and walk over the village of Morris, and tell how it used to look fifty years ago. There were two cherry trees here then in which "we boys" have often climbed and more often stoned. From the top of this high bluff on the north, "Old Sayles" and Eli Cole used to make a large sled, pile on fifteen or twenty cords of wood and slide it down the hill into and across the road. Near by on the right hand is the new residence of Colonel V. P. Van Rensselaer. The trees in the door-yard have just been set out and are growing finely. The residence is one of the finest west of Albany. The window-glass is the largest, for but few persons had seen in that day anything but 7 by 9 glass in a dwelling house.
Going down the road we first come to the mill-road. That road ran down the hill through the woods on the east side of that oak-tree, and the factory-store and shed stand right in the old highway. The next building on Main Street is Joshua Weaver’s harness-shop. The next near by is his dwelling-house, now owned by Peleg Weeden. The next house is a little one story building, end to the road, occupied by one Mills, and afterwards by Edward Wing, who built the second-story part of the present house in 1830, now occupied by s. G. Weeden. The next was a small two-story house, built by one Bentley, and owned by Allen Holcomb, in the rear of which he manufactured Windsor chairs. Across the road in front of these houses was a clearing full of stumps and log heaps. The next was a long one and a half story house, with two front doors, owned by Ashael Avery, one end of it being used as a cabinet-shop. Across the road opposite was a one-story brick house, built by General Jacob Morris for his sons, John C., for a law-office; but John not taking a fancy to living there it was used as a dwelling-house, but at this time occupied by Ebenezer Dewey.
The next house was owned by Colonel Van Rensselaer and rented to Elijah Hitchcock; afterwards occupied by Rev. Russell Wheeler, John Roberts, Saml. Somers, and others; finally sold to Rich. Garrett, and now owned by Mrs. Mathews. Across the road, in 1818, was built the Episcopal church, with a half-circle fence in front. The church cost $5,500. The next house was owned by Elakim Howe, a tailor by trade. It was a small one-story house. The site of J. l. Lull’s house was a hog-yard. The next house was owned by C. June, a shoemaker. The house was altered over recently. Across he road, on the site of the Otsego House, was Davis’ barn. At the foot of the steep hill in front of Esquire Harrison’s house was a goose-pond. The present site of J. M. Lull’s house was an orchard, and near where the store is stood the tavern barn.
The old red tavern built by Bradley, situated about where the kitchen of the Louisville Hotel is, was a long two-story building, with a double piazza in front, and one-story barroom on the east end. In front of it, on a green large enough to put up a circus-tent, stood the sign between two posts, reading "Z, Roberts’ Inn." Across the road, on the east of the four corners, stood a one and a half story red store, facing the west, built by Pratt and owned by Luther Skidmore. This store is now R. Cooley’s house, and the present building was built by C. Moore, in 1832.
Crossing the turnpike running from New Berlin to Huntsville, on the west corner, was the two-story residence of Esquire Davis. Just beyond the house was the one-story red shop and post-office, and in the read is the tannery. The bark-mill and the fulling-mill wre run by the water from the creek. The next building across the brook was Dr. Wing’s office, moved from the opposite side of the village.
We next come to the turnpike which led into the settlement known as "Hayti." On this corner stood a one-story house, owned by Luther Skidmore. Further on stood the new red school-house, built by Mr. Jackson, and near the tenant-house of H, B, Washbon was an old house occupied by Jos., Pearsall, who always dressed in the Continental costume.
On the rod to South Berlin, near the present site of Matteson’s Tannery, was an old building called the file-factory, used afterwards for boring gun-barrels, and lastly used as a dwelling-house
Let us retrace our steps and start again from the four corners. On the southeast corner was a small red store, built by Dr. Hadley and-----Goble, occupied by Edward C. Williams. Next west of it was a two-story tavern buiolt and occupied by Jeremiah Crittenden. There was a picket fence in front, and farther out in the road three trees. Where now is the Perry block were the tavern sheds. It was here that the first elephant in the country (Old Bet) was exhibited. A road ran down by the side of the brook to the other streets. And on this was Franchot and Van Rensselaer’s distillery. The brick house of Dr. Wing was commenced in 1824. The bricks were burned about five miles up the creek by White & Dayton. An old one-story house stood in what is now the garden occupied by C. Jackson. The next and last building on the main street was a two-story house on the present site of Lyman Brooks’ residence, owned by Dr. Bard, and where now is Murdock’s barn was Eli Walter’s wagon-shop, and across the road opposite was the old school-house in Lull’s woods.
It is said that these woods were underbrushed to furnish whips for the schoolmaster. To say he wore up one beech "gad" a day would be a moderate estimate. Walter’s house stood where Murdock’s now stands. The house in which W. E. Bunn lives was built by Dr. Hadley, and at that time was owned by Stephen Walker, and his carpenter-shop was situated about in the door-yard of L. J. Davis. It was sided up with shingles. Lyman Cruttenden had a blacksmith-shop where L. J. Davis’ is, and in R. Cooley’s garden near the brook was an ashery. Opposite the ashery was a one-story house occupied by Frank Harris, a basket-maker. The wagon-shop on the corner was owned by John Bard. Where C. H. turner’s house is was Lysander Curtis’ gun-shop. On the opposite side of the road was a small one-story house occupied by Allen Jackson. He was killed July 4, 1814.
In those days there were no platform scales, and many articles were sold at gross weight, 2240 pounds for a ton. A "56" was a weight with a hole drilled in it; in this was put a charge of powder, then a crease was cut in a plug, which was driven in, primed, and fired. The next house (I. Mansfield’s) was owned by Lyman Cruttenden. The next (H. M. Perry’s) by E. C. Williams; the second story was a Masonic Hall.
The next (Dr. Fox’s) was the residence of John Bard, and the next was Franchot’s old store, moved from the corner below, and occupied by Benj. Lull, hatter, afterwards by T. S. Bergen. And later by Obadiah Seeley. Near the site of the A. C. Moore’s house was a small one-story white house, owned by Mrs. Louis Franchot.
The rear of the Franchot house, by the creek bridge, was built by Judge Franchot in 1840. In what is now the factory pond, near the old Cotton house, was the miller’s house. The mill has been raised, but stands on the old site. Coming back to the corners again on the road to N. Berlin, at the foot of the hill, opposite Jus. Little’s residence, was a balcksmith shop, and on the left hand, at the top of the hill, was the residence of Newell Marsh. A little farther on, about opposite the road that goes down to the sled-factory, was a red house, which was moved about 1830 nearly opposite Stephen Walker’s residence, and occupied by Norman Newell, afterwards by Rufus Sanderson, and now by Moses Luther.
The above-described houses, 29 in all, were on the corporation in 1824. It may not be inappropriate to say that thirty years before there was not a framed house in the town, and there is one [person now living in town—Mrs. Benj. Draper, aged ninety-four (died in 1875)—who well remembered that time.
A census in 1824 would show about 160 inhabitants. There are but two houses on the corporation to-day that have not been built or altered over, viz.: R. H. Van Rensselaer’s and Dr. Wing’s. We add the following as a chronology: Avery’s cabinet-shop was built in 1828; S. W. Murdock’s store (A. C. Moore’s), 1827; the old red school-house, in 1825; Bergen’s hat-shop (Bunn’s), in 1830; Matteson’s tannery, 1831, burned in 1847; Avery’s house, 1832; F. Rotch’s house, 1833-34; stone hotel and store, 1833; Hargrave factory, 1833, burned 1850;J. P. Kenyon’s store, 1832; H. R. Wahbun’s house, 1839; Otsego House, 1840; Perry’s block, 1844; Masonic Hall, (Old Baptist church), Methodist and Universal churches, 1841; engine-house, 1835, opposite Weeden’s, moved to its present location in 1853; J. P. Kenyon’s shop, 1842; H. R. Wishbone’s office, (N. Stevenson’s shop), 1852; Episcopal rectory, 1841; Weeden’s shop, 1847; J. K. Lull’s house, 1842; and shop, 1845; Davis’ house, for a hotel, 1857; David Beckman’s house and store, 1865; Lawrence’s store, 1858, house, 1858; school-house built in 1860; C. L. Tucker’s house, 1868; J. P. Kenyon’s house, 1867; Baptist church, 1869; A. L. Sanderson’s house, and Dr. Stills’ house, 1833; Garratt’s house, 1841; J. Little’s house, 1852; S. Barrett’s house (first balloon frame in town), 1849; Jaycox’s house (Mordecai Wing’s), in 1838; J. E. Cook’s house (Bates’), 1938. On the corner opposite Bard’s (Lee’s) wagon-shop Church & Steen built a stone blacksmith-shop in 1838, which was afterwards enlarged for an iron-foundry and machine-shop by j. H. Bump; and finally it was torn down or moved away, and is now a vacant corner, just as it was fifty years ago.
The sled-factory up the David brook was originally a dwelling nearly opposite Bowne’s gate, Elm Grove, and was moved there and used by Allen Holcomb as a manufactory of tobacco-boxes and inkstands. It was enlarged and used as a cabinet-shop. The village was incorporated in 1870. J. E. Cooke was first president; J. A. Ward, second; A. S. Avery, third; and Peleg Weeden, fourth.
The Episcopal Church bell was recast in 1828, and weighs about 800 pounds.
The town-clock was purchased by subscription in 1849. Before we had a clock a man was paid by subscription almost $25 a year to ring the bell at sunrise twelve M., and nine P.M. the number of houses on the corporation is 175, and the population about 750. The new cemetery was laid out in 1862; the first burial there was Mrs. Leonard.
We will now speak of the manners and customs of the people.
It was a common thing for a shoemaker (cobbler) to "whip the cat,"—go into a farmer’s house, put his kit in one corner of the room, and with one last, made, perhaps, from a stick off the wood-pile, make the shoes for the whole family,--the largest first, then cutting down the last to the next smaller size, the farmer furnishing the leather. Rights and lefts shoes were unknown. Pegged shoes were looked upon with distrust.
Everyday hats were made of wool, and a fur hat, if one was able to own it, was worn Sundays and to trainings. It was a great discovery when "waterproof hats" were made. Silk or cotton plush was unknown. All cloth, wood or linen, was "spun or wove" by hand, and spinning-wheels and looms wre as common then we sewing machines and pianos now are. Every house had one or more fireplaces (a cooking-stove was unknown), and by the side of the fireplace was a large brick oven (sometimes the ovens would be built near the house, out of doors). The large loaves of "rye and Indian: bread were staple articles, and hard to beat. When folks got out of pearlash, they used the ashes of corncobs as a good substitute.
In the square-room of "well-to-do" people were brass-ornamented andirons in the fireplace. In the summer time this fireplace would be filled with "sparrow-grass" (asparagus) but after wall-paper became cheap, fire boards, with landscape on them, filled up the space. It was a great invention when the tin baker was made; quite an improvement on the old bake-kettle, or the board on which the Johnny-cake was baked before the fire. At night it was necessary to bury up the fire,--that is, cover the coals and brands with ashes,--so that the fire would "keep" (not go out) till morning. There were no matches in those days, and frequently people would lose the fire and have to go a half mile to borrow a brand or coal to start a fire at home. Some had tinder-box and flint; or steel, and would strike a fire in that way. If a man had a gun (flint-lock), he could put powder and tow in the pan, and start a fire by that means.
One stage-coach ran from Cooperstown to Oxford three times a week. It was a four-horse yellow coach, and looked, in children’s eyes, as large as a circus does nowadays. The postmaster could have carried anyone mail for Louisville (Butternuts) in his hat. The postage on a letter was as follows: to Garrattsville, 6 cents, to Cooperstown 10 cents, to Albany 12-1.2 cents, to New York, 18-1/2 cents, and to Philadelphia 25 cents. There were no envelopes; the sheet of paper was folded up so that to tack on edge into another, and sealed with a wafer or sealing-wax.
Hugh Edwards and Jim Willoughby had the honor of being drivers. It was the law then to blow a horn when they came to within 80 rods of the post-office.
It was a grand night to see the stage coming at a ten-miles-an-hour gait (no brake on the coach). Sometimes the driver would cut a figure 8, then swing his long whip and tick the leader’s ear, and when he left the village sometimes the horses were on a run till out of sight.
In those days barter was the rule and cash the exception. Farms bought all their store goods and paid in grain, lumber, etc. A good farmer received $8 to $11 a month, and mechanics from $12 to $16 a month. During haying and harvesting 50 cents was the price per day. Hemlock lumber was worth $3.50 per thousand, and good pine shingles from 75 cents to $1 per bunch. Good firewood $1 a cord in trade; good three-year old steers, from $11 to $14; butter, 8 to 12 cents per pound; whiskey, 25 cents per gallon. The first fair and cattle-show in the county was held in Butternuts in 1835.
The writing-paper used in school was coarse and handmade; each scholar had a piece of lead flattened out to rule it with. The pens were goose-quills, and made by the master. The school-books in use were Dabol’s Arithmetic, Murray’s Grammar, English Reader, Webster’s Spelling-book, Woodbridge’s Geography, etc. Blackboards, maps and mental arithmetic were unthought of. The sheet-anchors of the system of medical practice wre calomel and the lancet. When the doctor was called he would examine the patient, then take a lancet out of his vest-pocket, ask the woman for one of her garters, and proceed to cord the arm and tap a vein, then give a dose of calomel, and—call again.
In regard to the valuation of property, the town assessment rolls of 1824 shows Dan Smith, Ichabod Davis, and David Shaw, jr., assessors. The total taxable property of the town of butternuts (now Morris and Butternuts) was $387,505. The rate was 37 cents on $100, and the amount raised was $1,073.70. We give a list f a few lots and farms: V. P. Van Rensselaer, 195 acres, $3,600; Joshua Weaver (Weeden), 39 acres, $650; A. Holcomb, ½ acres, $250; A. Avery, ½ acre, $275; R. W. & C. Factory, 59 acres, $6,000, personal, $14,000; Davis, 179 acres, $3,200; P. Franchot, 458 acres, $5,000, personal, $4,000; General Jacob Morris, 962 acres, $8,076, personal $1,000; John C. Morris, 55-1/2 acres, $1.060, personal, $3,000; Geo. Shepherd (Bowne), 145 Acres, $3,400, personal, $3,000; Dr. Wm. Yates, 1000 acres, $6,000; Richard Cole,, 95 acres, $450; Dan smith, 290 acres, $3,300, personal $1,200; Nathan Lull (F. Rotch), 150 acres, $1,800; Luther Skidmore, 182 acres, $1,700. By comparing this old list with the abstract of 1873, we find in the latter that the total valuation of the taxable property of Morris to be $419,385. In 1823 the population of this large town was 1,608; to-day the population of this same territory is almost 4,500. Go into any State or Territory of the United States, or in any kingdom on the face of the earth, and you will find somebody who used to live in Oysego County. The town has furnished some distinguished men, as well as some notorious personages, either to the "manor born" or by long residence therein. Francis Rotch was one of the leading men in the State, as an agriculturist and breeder of cattle and sheep. At one time he was president of the New York State agricultural society, and foremost in inaugurating town fairs, when fairs meant something besides horse-racing. He became a resident in 1830, , and being a man of wealth, his means were freely given for all public purposes, and his charities, which were numerous and bountiful, are best known by his recipients. The poor of Morris miss him as much as any class of people. He died in 1874, aged eighty-six years. Jacob K. Lull is the oldest man living in town, who was born here, aged eighty years (still living at this date, 1877, aged eighty-three years). He was a successful businessman, a tanner and currier. He acquired a competency by his industry, and raised a large family. In 1838 was elected member of assembly, which position he filled with honor and credit.
Pascal Franchot was one of the first settlers of the town, coming here in 1789, via Cooperstown and Burlington turnpike, when the road was followed by marked trees. He was supervisor of the town in 1800, and at different times afterwards. He was county clerk and judge of the county (what is now justice of sessions). Thos. A. Filer was the first man to establish a select school approaching an academy in the course of study. John C. Morris was once judge of the county. Nelson Dewey, son of Ebenezer Dewey, Esq., was twice elected governor of Wisconsin.
Jesse C. Smith, Esq., son of Dan smith, was a man of influence, and for many years a public officer in Brooklyn. The legislature has had Hon. St. Paul Seely, Hon. C. A. Church (two terms). The State senate has had Colonel A. M. Smith and Colonel F. M. Rotch. Colonel Rotch, son of Francis Rotch, was one of the best artists in the country. Some years ago one of his water-color paintings was sold for $50, and the money donated to the poor. He died from the effects of a fever contracted in the swamps near Yorktown, Va., in 1864.
Charles I, and his brother, Edward C. Walker, sons of Stephen Walker, are prominent and wealthy lawyers in the city of Detroit, Mich. Edward C. Walker is a regent of the University of Michigan.
The United States congress has been represented by Hon. S. S. Bowne and Hon. General Richard Franchot, who have been for the best part of their lives residents of this town. Dr. Wm. Yates was one of the Jenner’s first converts, and the first man to introduce vaccination for smallpox in America. At his death an obituary of two columns in length was published in the New York Tribune.
The Rev. Reuben Nelson (Methodist) was one of the large family of children who worked in Hargrave factory; it was here he lost his arm by being caught in a picker.
Dan Smith, another old settler, aided materially in the prosperity of the town, in early life, as a drover. By his purchases the farmers were able to get money to pay their taxes. Ansel C. Moore was a public officer for many years, a man of influence, and in business (mercantile) was decidedly successful. He was the first man to establish a banking-house in town, which is successfully conducted by his son and son-in-law Jas. E. Cooke, under the firm-name of A. G. Moore and Co. And G. Washbon was a successful business man as agent for the B. W. & Co. Factory Co. Upon reading the account of the firing from Fort Sumter, he gave $100 to the first man who volunteered to go in defense of his country, and when the town was in straitened circumstances to raise its quota and bounties, he stepped forth, and, by his influence and exertion, the $44,000 in money was obtained. The Rev. Russell Wheeler came into this county in 1814. He first located in Unadilla, and after wards was rector of Zion church. He was a very exemplary man, rather eloquent as a speaker, and in 11829 he lived opposite the church in Morris. He died in 1861, aged seventy-seven years. Joseph Bowne, the Quaker preacher, was one of the most eloquent speakers of his day. The meeting-house was always fill and even crowded when he was moved to speak. He wore the Continental costume of the generation gone before. He was well educated, very sociable, and truly a good man whose memory is cherished with reverence even to his day. He died in 1848, aged seventy years. Levi S. Chatfield was born in this town of poor but respectable parents, and rose to the honorable position of attorney-general.
Sixty years ago the school-house in Louisville stood near the corner beyond the bridge in Franchot’s (Leonard’s) lot. The district then extended to Jared Patrick’s and Lemuel Brooks’ (Hopkin’s) on the east, and to Lyman Collar’s (Danl Jackson’s) on the west, Saml. Drew, teacher. Dan Smith lived about one mile below Louisville, on the road to Gilbertsville, and for some years kept a tavern. This used to be quite a resort for persons to go and shoot at a mark. To snuff a candle at 15 rods’ distance with a rifle-ball was considered something of a shot. Deacon Jackson lived in the next house below, and from there to General Morris’ it was nearly all woods.
Transcribed by Holice B. Young
HTML by Debbie
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